Even though I rarely have time to watch as much anime as I’d like, I’m usually pretty abreast of the noteworthy shows of each season, their names quietly chronicled in an ever expanding list of things I’ll watch “someday.” But somehow, Your Lie in April completely eluded me. It’s not that I hadn’t heard the title—it’s kind of catchy that way—but the particulars escaped me. It wasn’t until my sister brought it to my attention that I realized how much I needed to see this show. Pensive piano prodigy who has lost the ability to “hear” his music after the death of his demanding mother-slash-instructor is dragged from his bland grey world into a dazzling symphony of color by a vibrant, vivacious violinist? Sign me up! As Kousei (the aforementioned prodigy) grows closer to Kaori (the violinist), he learns to leave behind the perfect-yet-emotionless playing of his contest-winning childhood to embrace playing music for the love of music itself. As the opening credits say, “I met the girl under full-bloomed cherry blooms, and my fate has begun to change.”
Fittingly, Your Lie in April is possibly the prettiest anime I’ve ever watched. Almost every frame is, well, frame-able, with enough cherry blossoms dancing by to fill one of the show’s many musical venues to capacity. It’s somewhat telling that the narrative skips through summer in quick tempo in order to portray similar feats of ambiance and beauty with the falling leaves of autumn. It would be easy to say that Your Lie is too pretty for its own good, shoveling in the sakura until nothing really stands out. But that’s where the show’s most surprising, and most brilliant, juxtaposition comes in. Despite weaving a tale traversing the depths of human feeling, the show breaks up the heaviness with full-on bouts of comedy. Characters super-deform, light on fire, human torpedo each other, and otherwise elicit the kind of silliness that, at first, seems out of place. But it’s this constant reminder of levity that keeps the show from becoming a mirthless slog.
Calling Your Lie in April a realistic exploration of the human condition is a stretch. As they struggle with love and loss, most of its fourteen-year-old cast spout poetic treatises and wax nostalgia like middle-aged wordsmiths, but that’s okay. Lie is like the music it so throughly admires throughout the show. It is an idealized form of expression, carefully crafted to elicit the strongest emotional response. Whereas Erased celebrated the every day with its loving vignettes, Your Lie in April exalts it, creating a tapestry of the slice-of-life at its absolute most heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
And the music! Your Lie is a tour-de-force of classical greats, and love and care is given to portraying and animating the instruments that produce it. There’s some 3D wizardry at work here, which normally rubs me the wrong way, but I think the complicated workings of playing such intricate piano pieces couldn’t be served any other way. Like everything else, every performance is rife with tension as the show’s characters struggle to command the music to their will. These are not mere pieces for a passive audience, but a powerful energy that can traverse time and space—to send a message that the performers desperately hope will reach and be understood. Even the audience listens with dramatic intensity, noting every sway of the performer’s will and even commenting with the musical equivalent of “His power level is over NINE-THOUUUSANND!”
It’s utterly preposterous, of course, but somehow—like the rest of Your Lie in April—it is in its way the most honest. This melodramatic, over-the-top rendition of the humble musical performance conveys, just a small fragment, of the actual feelings that music can imbue. The show’s own score, while more limited in variety than the many classical composers it features, manages to stir up the heartstrings regardless of how many times you hear the main dramatic theme.
And despite the show’s many dips into melancholy, I appreciate that Your Lie is always up front and honest about it. The show’s main “twist”—if you can really call it that—is telegraphed so early and often that its reveal doesn’t feel like an ambush. The show’s drive for emotion never feels contrived or unfair. In fact, I think the real lie in Your Lie in April is the one you tell yourself. Until the show’s tear-jerking finale, I found myself hoping against hope that, perhaps, another resolution was possible.
In the end, every piece of music has its end, its finale, its coda. And Your Lie in April finishes exactly where it had to all along.
Your Lie in April and OVA
Given how much vim and vigor is generously applied to Your Lie in April’s many performances, it’s actually really appropriate to represent the rise and fall of a given performer’s playing, confidence, and will with a few custom rules.
When a performer—whether that’s a pianist, a singer, or even a stand-up comedian—gets on the stage, they are immediate faced by their audience. Sometimes, the entire audience matters. Other times, it is only a choice few, be it trying to capture the heart of a loved one or impressing the hard-nosed judge. Whatever the case, the audience is given a DN based on how hard they are to impress. A fun night out at karaoke is prone to require a paltry 4 or 6, while world competitions may require 12—and beyond!
But performances are rarely the matter of a single roll. A good performance requires consistency and stamina. The Game Master will determine the number of successful rolls required to make a performance successful, and also the maximum number of rolls that can be made. The number of rolls is not necessarily the length of the performance itself, but a measure of the dramatic weight the performance carries. A night like many other nights in a concert tour may be handled by relatively few rolls, while one song in the ultimate final performance of a tournament may require many. Likewise, too many missteps, false starts, and errors will bring the performance to a crashing halt, even if there were great successes along the way. In between each roll, Players should take the time to role play their experience, whether they are the performer or the audience.
A performer’s skill will take them a long way—but sometimes it is not enough. No amount of practice or aptitude can stave away the threat of one bad roll too many. By spending Endurance, Players can earn Drama Dice to improve their results. Sweat drips off their brow, the score bends to their will, and for that moment the very soul of their playing is channeled through their instrument and into the audience. In fact, performers can do this even if they succeeded already. After all, wouldn’t an Amazing Success be that much more…amazing?
But this emotion is not always appropriate. There are competitions where playing to the composer’s intent, by every note and measure, is required. In these cases, spending Drama Dice may disqualify the performer on technical merit alone. But audience choice—well, that’s another matter entirely, isn’t it?
Alas, performers don’t exist in a vacuum. As intently as they might focus on their performance, the outside world can threaten to break in and disrupt all they have struggled to achieve. Doubts, fears, past traumas and current stress all can meddle with the ability to perform. When such Demons rear their ugly heads, they make a roll. Minor worries might be represented as two dice, while persistent dreads can roll five dice or more. If the Demon roll ever beats the character’s own performance roll, it cancels it out, even if it would have been a success! Of course, characters may still dig deep to overcome them.
Speaking of music, readers, do you have a favorite anime with that subject as its focus? How about your favorite anime soundtrack? Tell me about it in the comments! Also, if you’d like to support this blog, consider purchasing Your Lie in April merchandise like comics, Blu-ray boxsets, and figures from this link!